One year ago – July 4th 2013 – we climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine. Despite our training, it was a rigorous 5 mile, 5 hour ascent to the Northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Once at the top, we surveyed an endless ocean of trees and cascading horizons surrounding us, and began a 5-month southbound thru-hike of the AT, ending Thanksgiving Day, November 28 2013.
Today represents one year of embracing freedom: of loosing ourselves from our expectations; of looking for authentic, unmediated experience; of believing in ourselves and the infinite possibilities emergent in every life and at every moment; of one year of saying YES.
We have a confession to make… perhaps to assuage our own fears, and certainly to ease those of our families, we have totally downplayed the rigor and possible danger of this journey. Now that we are safely out of the two most challenging states (and by most people’s accounts the most dangerous) we breathe a sigh of relief. The elevation gain and terrain of the AT are among the most difficult of any trail in the world; the technical bouldering, mountain climbing, scrambling, tripping over roots, and sliding down bare, wet rock faces can really get to a person. But… we’re still alive!
To commemorate our victory, we now present you two lists:
Things we did:
We hiked 442.2 Appalachian trail miles in 37 days (and probably more like 470 miles with non-AT side trails)
We walked/climbed/scrambled/sweated uphill 122,133.2 feet
We walked/slid/fell/scooted downhill 122,733.8 feet
Our highest mileage day was 24.4 miles (to get to Hanover before the bars closed)
We summited Katahdin – the most mythological (and highest) peak in Maine
We traversed the 100 mile wilderness with no support – carried all our belongings and food with no resupply – for 9 days
We had a blast going through Mahoosuc Notch, ME – the “Most difficult mile on the trail”
We summited Mt Washington in NH – the most feared (and highest) peak in the Northeast
Groucho strained a muscle in his back, broke a toe, broke a toe nail and fell down 5-8 times
Harpo got a bloody knee, and a bruised elbow/thigh/knee and fell down 3-6 times
We forded rivers (all gentle, no more than calf high)
We saw bear, salamanders, toads, frogs, grouse, hawks, crows, eagles, a large hare, red squirrels, chipmunks, mice and many many song birds – but no moose
Groucho learned minimist shoes are not the maximus for Maine
We had wet socks for days on end
We stepped in mud up to our and thighs, and were happy our shoes stayed on
We descended Mt Washington with zero visibility in freezing sleet, arriving at the one shelter we stayed at in NH, Lake of the Clouds Hut. We were greeted by 10 northbounders who had been waiting out the weather since 4pm, and were sent to ‘the Dungeon’ instead of getting work-for-stay. We paid $10 each for the privilege of staying w/out heat or light or a mattress for the plywood bunk (but believe you me, we were grateful for even this)
Things that did NOT happen to us, but DID happened to others within days of our traversing the same terrain:
We did not have bears steal our packs for food
We did not injure our knee in the 100 mile wilderness and have to wait at the hostel for 5 days hoping it got better (hope you’re back on the trail Ben!)
We did not have a boulder dislodge and dislocate our shoulder/shatter our foot on Katahdin
We did not have to leave trail because of blisters getting infected / blood poisoning
We did not get lost… we stayed close to the same shelter as a camper who then dissapeared. Our thoughts are still with hiker Inchworm who has been missing for two weeks in Maine… we hope every day for her safe recovery.
We hear the rest of the journey is much more relaxed; lower elevation, nicer trail and fair weather. But we pay our highest respects to mother nature, who has schooled us through both fear and awe in the last month… And so we bid farewell to New Hampshire, and Maine, as we complete our first month on trail.
These Mainers really get to the point… Being from the Northwest we’re used to groomed trails and switchbacks, but here it seems they really like to go straight up the mountain. It might be a geological difference, based in the fact the Appalachian mountains are older and more resemble crumbling teeth rather than the razor points of the Cascades, but perhaps it’s ideological as well. People here tend to be rugged but kind, soft spoken with a certain self assured raw strength – and their trail building reflects a can do attitude that seems to rely on individual confidence to surmount any obstacle, no matter how steep or gnarled.
We’ve completed 298 miles of the trail, and hiked at least 312 miles including side trails and accidental wrong turns. We’ve also finished four milestones. 1) Katahadin – the largest peak in Maine and one of the most revered of the trail; 2) The 100 mile wilderness – the longest stretch of trail without towns and resupply points; 3) Southern Maine in general – a notorious maze of huge boulders and rocks and roots and climbing up and down old, crumbling mountains; 4) Mahoosuc Notch – the “most difficult mile on the trail” because it’s a climb over and under and around an enormous boulder field. We found it more like a giant adult playground…
Maine presented a beautiful and magical landscape… We hear New Hampshire is also rigorous with a lot of climbing ahead of us the next 7-10 days… it also holds our next (and last two milestones)… 5) The Whites in general (a lot of climbing and high mountains); and 6) Mount Washington specifically – the highest peak in the NE.
After that, and these next 100 miles, things are supposed to get “easier”… we’ll see…
“And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own, And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own, And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers, And that a kelson of the creation is love And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,”
We met Passing Traveller, a fellow hiker from Munich, as we pulled into Maine on the bus. We ran into him here as he and Maverick were leaving Stratton and we were rolling up. He keeps crushing miles and setting records, and we keep chasing him…
Atop Bigelow mountain … Headed towards Georgia. We’re posting this from Stratton, ME – only 1997.7 miles to go!
We climbed and climbed, seeming never to reach the top. The previous night having slept near the summit of White Cap, we knew we had a day of significant ups and downs, but weren’t really prepared for the straight scramble up Chairback mountain. We moved slowly shrouded in clouds, the dew was heavy laden on the trees keeping the rocks and roots pervading the trail wet and dangerous – it never really rained, but the humidity was high enough to keep us soaked all day. We were certainly glad when, after a 12 hour/15 mile day we climbed our last 250 feet (straight up, of course) and were welcomed by a fire outside the lean to set by some lovely Canadian section hikers.